SHEFFIELD UTD 2-2 GILLINGHAM: MATCH REPORT
Gillingham battled to a fantastic 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane against table-topping Sheffield United on Saturday in Sky Bet League One.
Billy Sharp gave the Blades a deserved lead at half-time but two goals from Josh Wright had set the Gills on course for an unlikely win, however Kieron Freeman’s equaliser ensured the sides each went home with a point.
Ady Pennock made three changes from the defeat at Oldham. Cody McDonald returned to the XI up front, Jake Hessenthaler recovered from illness to make the starting line-up and Deji Oshilaja was preferred at left back.
Sheffield United started the game on the front foot, and looked to get the ball out wide to their full-backs in the early stages. Gillingham were saved by an offside flag on five minutes when Jack O’Connell got in behind and whipped a dangerous ball across goal.
Stuart Nelson had to be at his best to deny the home side minutes later after a free-kick had caused trouble for the Gillingham defence. After a bit of the pinball, John Fleck had time to bend a shot towards goal but the Gills ‘keeper got across well to make the save, palming the ball to safety.
A minute later, Sharp got across his man following a great ball in from the left flank, but could only head over under pressure from captain Max Ehmer.
Elliot List had the first attempt for the Gills as the midfielder burst from the halfway line, beating a number of Blades players with his pace, but dragged his shot wide of the goal from 25-yards.
The home side were dominating possession and Chris Herd bravely got his up to win a looping ball on the six-yard box and clear the ball midway through the opening half. Sheffield United had got in down the right of the penalty area and Oshilaja blocked the shot, before a stood up cross saw Herd clattered as he made the clearance.
Just before the half-hour mark, the Blades troubled the Gills defence again as Freeman got down the right flank. His low cross was met by Caolan Lavery, whose flick at the near post flew into the side netting.
Sharp opened the scoring to put the home side ahead after 31 minutes following a slick team move. A quick one-two with Lavery saw Sharp free on the edge of the box and his first-time shot gave Nelson no chance.
Gillingham were standing firm against the continued pressure from United. Paul Coutts was next to go close as he volleyed just wide from the edge of the box when a corner was half-cleared by the Gills defence.
With four minutes to go until the break, Sharp called Nelson into action again. The Blades had joy down the right flank and from the cut-back, Sharp directed the ball into the bottom left corner but Nelson got down superbly to tip the shot around the post.
Two minutes later, Nelson made an even better save as Sharp span on the edge of the box and drove the ball towards the right-hand corner, with the Gills keeper pulling off a fantastic stop to divert the ball around the post with his fingertips and keep Gillingham in the game at half time.
H/T: 1 – 0
Emmanuel Osadebe replaced Herd at the break after his collision in the first half, with Pennock moving Oshilaja into the centre-half position.
The Gills looked to get on the front foot early in the second period. Ryan Jackson had the first effort, driving forward from right back powerfully but his optimistic shot from 30-yards sailed into the 307 Gillingham fans.
The Gills equalised after 51 minutes through midfielder Wright. A fantastic Gillingham move involving Jackson, Bradley Dack and Scott Wagstaff ended with a low ball into the box, which found Wright in the middle of the box; he controlled the ball and beat his man before slotting into the corner of the net.
Sheffield United immediately looked to regain the lead and thought they had done so, but Sharp’s tap in at the far post was disallowed with the striker ruled offside. The home side continued to press and nearly took the lead from a free-kick but the header whistled wide of the far post.
Gillingham took an unlikely lead after 57 minutes with Wright tapping in after Jackson’s long-throw. Ehmer got up highest to win the ball and the midfielder reacted fastest to poke the Gills ahead from close range.
Sheffield United had another goal disallowed after the hour following a free-kick which was well blocked by the Gills defence. The ball was reloaded and headed home but the linesman’s flag denied the Blades an equaliser.
The goal did come after 62 minutes, however, when Freeman reacted quickest after an incredible close range save from Nelson to blast into the roof of the net and level the game.
The game had come to life, transformed into an end-to-end contest played out in front of a vociferous atmosphere. United were dangerous on the counter attack and broke after another long-throw from Jackson, but Lavery could only head into the side netting.
The game eventually settled down from the manic tempo that had been set, although Lavery did blaze into the stands after cutting in from the left.
Nelson had to be alert to deny substitute Mark McNulty from a tight angle after the Blades again broke with pace. McNulty was played in with a slightly heavy ball that took him wide and Nelson was able to make the save with his legs. Up the other end, Ehmer got up well from a corner but his nodded effort dropped wide.
The Gillingham ‘keeper was keeping the away side level with a series of incredible saves first from a McNulty bicycle kick and the second a point-blank block from a header from a corner as Sheffield United looked to turn the screw.
Gillingham were defending valiantly despite the continued barrage of attacks from the home team with Nelson, in particular, standing firm.
Dack went so close to nicking the game for the Gills in added time. A long-throw from Ehmer was headed clear but only as far as Dack whose left-footed first time volley whistled past the post.
Sheffield United continued to press forward but the Gills resisted to earn a crucial and well-earned point.
F/T: 2 – 2
The Gills return to MEMS Priestfield Stadium for two games next week as Ady Pennock takes charge of his first home games. AFC Wimbledon are the visitors on Tuesday night before Gillingham play Shrewsbury Town on Saturday.
Sheffield United: Moore; Freeman, Basham, Ebanks-Landell, O’Connell, Done (Scougall, 79); Duffy, Coutts, Fleck; Sharp, Lavery (McNulty, 72)
Unused Subs: Ramsdale (GK), Riley, Wright, Reed, Wilson
Gillingham: Nelson; Jackson, Ehmer, Herd (Osadebe, 46), Oshilaja; Wright, Hessenthaler (Byrne, 84); Dack, Wagstaff, List (Donnelly, 57); McDonald
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), Dickenson, Knott, Emmanuel-Thomas
Attendance: 20,649 (307 away)
Referee: Ben Toner